Radiohead’s ‘Burn the Witch’ – a personal interpretation.


Why ‘Burn the Witch‘? Why use Trumpton, and reference The Wicker Man for the video? And why now?

I have long had an interest in witchcraft, more specifically the persecution of witches in the sixteenth to the seventeenth century (and there are similarities in the fear and mass hysteria of the ‘witch hunts’ of the US in the Sixties). What is it that causes people to act in this way, and the fear and panic to grow like an epidemic? As soon as I heard Radiohead’s first track from ‘A Moon Shaped Pool‘ my interpretation fell on the current hysteria over the refugee situation, coupled with the panic of the state of the economies of Europe and the forthcoming European Referendum.

The comparison between the strange and twisted behaviour of the film ‘The Wicker Man‘ and the original idyllic innocence of the children’s animation ‘Trumpton‘ is a powerful image of what happens to society when there is fearmongering over basic human requirements – when people start to think that if you help others maybe there won’t be enough left for them. The villagers behaviour in the video is superficially normal but clues to the underlying nature are there from early in with ‘The Speared Boar‘ and the ducking stool, the construction of gallows beautifully decorated with flowers. The film ‘The Wicker Man‘ also has an apparent air of too perfect village harmony but with the sinister theme of human sacrifice and mob-mentality emerging slowly.


One of the lines that struck me most was the “Red crosses on wooden doors” which refers to the painted marks made on the doors of plague victims, but also reminds me if the yellow stars painted by the Nazis on the doors of Jewish Residents. It also made me think of the recent situation where asylum-seekers were housed by one particular landlord agency where all the doors happened to be their corporate red. The Guardian newspaper ran the heading “Asylum seekers in north-east claim they are identifiable by red doors” These people were then easily selected for abuse. “We know where you live…

Then of course, it isn’t just Europe. As points out, the town of Trumpton seems to echo a certain US politician who also holds extreme far-right political views on immigration – particularly playing on the US fear of Muslim extremists. What is so worrying is that in both cases of US and UK many people are clinging on to these suggestions with some kind of mass hysteria that seems to ‘abandon all reason‘.

Postscript: I was also reminded of a book I read some years ago, and still keep on the shelf, ‘Witchcraze‘ by Anne Llewelyn Barstow. This fascinating book examines the era where “approximately one hundred thousand persons, most of whom were women, were put to death under the guise of ‘witch hunts,’ particularly in Reformation Europe.” (Published by HarperSanFrancisco in 1994). This is well-worth a read for a very convincing feminist perspective on the witch hunts and a reminder that the mob-crowd usually persecutes the most vulnerable in society.


Stay in the shadows
Cheer at the gallows
This is a round up

This is a low flying panic attack
Sing a song on the jukebox that goes

Burn the witch
Burn the witch
We know where you live

Red crosses on wooden doors
And if you float you burn
Loose talk around tables
Abandon all reason
Avoid all eye contact
Do not react
Shoot the messengers

This is a low flying panic attack
Sing the song of sixpence that goes

Burn the witch
Burn the witch
We know where you live
We know where you live


2 thoughts on “Radiohead’s ‘Burn the Witch’ – a personal interpretation.

  1. So mote it be, darling. It’s still Burning Times even now! Love your blog – keep the broomsticks flying! xxxxx Serafina

  2. Thanks for commenting Serafina. However, you do realise that I’m not actually writing about witches here don’t you? I don’t think Radiohead are either. The point of the post was to highlight the recent discrimination and intolerance that has led, sadly, to our current political mess. Perhaps I was being too indirect!

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